Over the past few years, we’ve seen a pretty drastic increase in the number of video games with dedicated accessibility menus. While far from an industry standard, accessibility menus have gone from a rarity, to being frequent enough it’s not a huge surprise to see one in a game.
The thing is, when and how accessibility menus are presented to players can, in many cases, be as important as their inclusion in games themselves.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about placement of accessibility menus in video games. We’re going to talk about what benefits exist to highlighting accessibility features, the potential issues created when they’re not immediately visible, and the one setting perhaps most important to have appear first when booting up a game.
Most of the time, when video games include accessibility settings, they are presented to players as dedicated accessibility options, in their own menu, inside a larger settings menu. It’s good that these settings exist in these games, but let’s talk a little bit about the drawbacks of this approach.
Firstly, players may not know instantly that these settings are on offer. This may seem obvious, but accessibility settings are not yet so common that every gamer assumes every game has an accessibility menu to go look at. By making accessibility settings not nested inside other settings menus, you’re more likely to let people know those settings exist.
Secondly, there’s a subset of people who do not want to think of accommodations they might find helpful as accessibility settings. There is a percentage of people out there who would benefit from accessibility support, but are unlikely to click on an accessibility menu they see on a pause screen or start screen, to see that there are useful and desirable settings inside it.
A solution to both of these issues is highlighting accessibility settings on a player’s first boot up of a game, as a mandatory part of onboarding. Look at a game like The Last of Us 2 for example, which on first boot walks players through a series of accessibility menus before the game begins. This shows the player that these accessibility settings exist if they need them, either now or later, as well as showing players who might due to pride not look in an accessibility menu what settings are available, so they can learn if anything useful exists for them without having to go out of their way.
By taking away the barriers of having to know these settings exist, and having to feel willing to look through them, you have a much better chance of more people finding the settings they need.
Additionally, you avoid situations where a player might hit start on a game, realise they didn’t turn on subtitles for example, and can’t engage with a game’s opening cutscene. By making sure a player’s settings are right up front, you don’t risk the start of their play experience being negatively impacted.
While I am a big believer generally that including accessibility settings on first boot up of a game is generally beneficial, there is one setting in particular that I believe needs to be a priority, and the first setting presented to the player before any game starts that supports it.
Text to speech narration.
If your game supports text to speech narration, where the game will verbally tell blind or partially sighted players what text is currently selected in menus, that needs to be turned on by default, and the first thing that comes up on screen when the game boots up. Have the game ask the player, out loud, if they would like that setting turned on or off.
By having that setting up front, and left to the player to opt out of if they don’t want it rather than needing to find it and opt in, you make the entire rest of your accessibility setting onboarding process more accessible.
While I am incredibly happy to see more video games including accessibility settings, I would really like to see our industry move toward having these presented to the player up front. Show off that these settings exist, and give players a chance to look through them and pick which they need, before they start playing.
For accessibility settings to work players need to know they are there, and what options are available to them. By putting these up front of your game for a few minutes, you can make your accessibility support more useful for those who need it most.